-ALL PHOTOS BY RUTH RADER-
You owe me an apology. In fact, you owe me much more than that.
I hitchhiked all the way from Ontario, Oregon to the small city of Red Bluff, California. And when the day began so perfectly, yesterday, I thought that the entire day would be a winner.
The morning had all of the makings of a successful traveling day.
I enjoyed basking in the sun and looking back at the million-dollar view.
Traffic came and went. I sat in the sun and was very patient. I truly believed that someone
would give me a ride in a reasonable amount of time. One-by-one, the nicely dressed Christians
rolled by, the coffee and newspaper crowd zipped by and finally the Sunday extensions of
Saturday night zoomed by. The weekend warriors, project people and bikers passed me, too.
And the sun shimmered as it crossed the sky.
No one stopped.
Late in the afternoon, my smile disappeared and I began to get concerned.
I began to feel it in my gut: Something was wrong.
All I wanted was a ride to a small-town community that would line me up nicely with the next leg of my journey...to Reno, Nevada.
Finally, the sun dropped to the tree line and I realized that when the sun was gone, I would be sitting in total darkness. So, I contacted the police because I didn't want to spend a cold night in a desolate, forest location.
But when I called, the dispatcher made it clear that she didn't consider my request for assistance worthy of attention. Nope.
It didn't matter to her that I didn't have a flashlight or a sleeping bag. She didn't care that my phone was running out of battery power. It didn't occur to her that I would be fair game to anything that was lurking up there.
She asked me why I was hitchhiking. Her hatred for me pinged off the tower and cut sharply into my ear.
Finally, after a few minutes of useless conversation, she hung-up on me.
Oh, yes she did.
Then the sun faded away and I was left, on the top of that hill, with nothing but forest around me, in total, absolute darkness.
That's when I got mad.
I took a deep breath and stared up into the black sky...and my immediate reaction was, "Oh wow!"
There was no moon last night. But a million stars twinkled down and brought a kind of comforting peace to me.
I knew what I had to do.
So I prayed to God, first. Then I pulled my backpack over my shoulders, picked up my laptop case and began to walk...down that totally dark highway...back toward Red Bluff.
I could barely see the road in front of me. And every time a vehicle passed, I waved my arms and shouted at the approaching headlights.
Forty-five minutes later, I sat down on another rail and called the police, again. The second conversation was worse than the first one.
THE POLICE OFFICIALLY REFUSED TO HELP ME.
So I continued on, walking very slowly and carefully, down that ink-dark stretch of desolate highway.
Finally, a pickup passed by and I waved my arms and almost jumped in front of the vehicle. The truck passed by me, anyway. But very slowly.
Then I hollered, at the top of my lungs, "I know you saw me, just now. You know that I am here. And I swear that God, Himself is going to get you if you don't stop your truck, right now and help me!!!"
Yes, those were my exact words.
And for some reason, my voice ran from me to the driver, like a clap of thunder.
The truck stopped. Then it slowly backed-up.
The driver slid the truck's passenger-side window down and turned on the inside light. I stood there and shivered as the driver tried to comprehend exactly what he was looking at. Neither one of us said a word for a moment.
Then the driver blinked and moved into action.
I was dehydrated because I hadn't had anything to drink for over twelve hours. I was cold, tired and my feet and back ached.
And in a split-second, that driver became my very competent and complete comfort zone. He didn't care about why I was out there on that highway. He didn't pass judgment on my backpack or my hooded sweatshirt. And he didn't dismiss me because I don't own a vehicle.
He cared. And he gave every last bit of credit for everything that he did for me, to God.
Yes, he did.
And that man is from out of State.
Now, in retrospect, I know that California is filled with some very Ugly Americans. Shame on them.
Shame on you.